John Amos carries eight decades of American history in his sturdy 6-foot frame.Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve certainly seen him on screen, whether you’re a baby boomer or a member of Gen Z. His filmography is expansive: The Mary Tyler Moore Show Good Times Roots Coming To America The Western Wing Uncut Gems

In addition to being a walking Hollywood encyclopedia, the actor has mapped the course of an American century in many other ways when he was one of the first young black students in predominantly white schools after Brown v’s Board of Education to go with playing the Denver Broncos and becoming a social worker at the Brooklyn House of Detention “I knew what it was like to be a low-tier worker A garbage man on a truck with his back open, “says Amos.” Every work experience I had as a young man and later in my life benefited me as an actor because it all gave me hands-on experience “

This month, Amos will be one of his best-known roles – would-be burger magnate Cleo McDowell – in Coming 2 America, the sequel to the popular Eddie Murphy comedy that will be released on Jan. March runs on Amazon Prime, revisit In a Zoom interview, Amos watched some of the most iconic scenes of his career and reflected on the life experiences that influenced those roles – and the impact those roles, in turn, had on his life Here are excerpts from the conversation / p>
Amos ‘first big role, which began in 1970, was on one of America’s most successful sitcoms: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which received consistently high ratings and earned 29 Emmys over a seven-year period, Amos’ affable and talented weatherman Gordy was often the straight man in his scenes who ingeniously picked up a swirl of antics, Amos was also the show’s only great black performer, an experience he may have been new to in entertainment but not part of his life as a student been the first suspension classes of two schools in New Jersey

“I had suffered this outrage in real life from the integration of these two schools when I was told I was a physical abnormality,” says Amos. “Children wipe their cheek with fingers to see if the black has come off, or say about my nose, “Gosh, can you breathe through this thing or walk through it? “

But Amos says the teachers at these schools encouraged his thespian instincts and urged him to explore his creativity, and when he got to the Mary Tyler Moore Show, he said the cast and crew had him open-minded Receiving the poor “It was an actor’s paradise,” says Amos. “Mary was a pretty talented comedian, but her strength was really undervalued. What really could have been passed off as a pedestrian comedy turned into a lesson for actors to bring people together – Cloris Leachman , Mary and so many wonderful, wonderful actors with good material – to almost become a form of life ”

Even though Amos shared the space with comedic legends, it wasn’t always easy to find steady work. “You could assume that you would be constantly employed on a handsome salary for a relatively long period of time and then possibly five years works, “he says,” It’s a very sobering feeling “

He took on many commercials to pay the bills. At one point, a Pepsi commercial almost cost him another acting job: “I broke up on my lunch break and started drinking those 16-ounce Pepsis after about that Third, I turned into a human well, “he recalls,” When I went back to work, I couldn’t finish the day because I burped every 30 seconds “

In 1971, Amos was asked to participate in a commercial for the growing McDonalds burger chain, which had only sold the Big Mac nationwide three years earlier.Amos had previously been a McDonald’s employee at one of their first Canadian outposts, so he was happy to take over the commercial Almost two decades later, he got hooked when he played McDonald’s rival Cleo McDowell in Coming to America, “I thought God was proving somewhere that he had a sense of humor,” he says
In 1974, Amos was cast on the Norman Lear sitcom Good Times, in which he played the patriarch of one of the first black two-parent households on network television.The show would become a cultural touchstone for a generation, especially black viewers: Alicia Keys , Rick Ross, the Wu Tang Clan and many other artists have named Amos or his character James Evans in their lyrics (Detroit rapper Royce da 5’9 “even admitted” by Gregory [his brother] and James Evans “in “I Play Forever” was brought up) “This show was the most realistic portrayal of life as an African-American family living under these circumstances,” says Amos

But Amos also remembers being frustrated with the incongruence of the show’s white writers like Lear, who wrote black storylines that he thought were spurious, “It was a tooth and nail above what we thought was right And our beliefs were based on that experience, ”he recalls,“ Me, the experience of working and living as an African American. And some of his writers, who theorized what my reactions or the character’s reactions would be, relied largely on the point of view from Beverly Hills ”

The situation was exacerbated by Amos’ temper, which he believes stems from the PTSD he developed after playing professional football and boxing.Amos had hosted college football dreams as a route to economic freedom and a contract with the Denver Broncos signed before he was injured He played in various small and professional football leagues before he burned out. “It affected me not only in terms of the ability to be restrained, but also in terms of the tendency to be prone to violence, largely because of football,” says Amos ” I realized early on in my acting career that I couldn’t resort to the same release of pressure valves: a writer who had given me bad material to pull off with a forearm slap and hit ”

After three seasons of critical acclaim and high ratings, Amos was unceremoniously discharged from the show. “There have been several instances where I said,” No, you don’t do these things, it’s an abomination for black society, I’ll be the expert if you don’t mind, “he recalls.” And it got confrontational and heated enough that my death outside of the show ended up being the best solution for everyone involved, including me “

“You thought I was talking about a revolution here in the studio – and that was me,” he says. “I was a sign of the times that we just couldn’t take it anymore, but that the social graces hadn’t developed to our own He and Lear later reconciled – and the couple hugged on a Good Times TV reunion special on ABC in 2019

Amos may not have started a revolution in the good times, but he wanted to be part of another: Roots The 1977 show, which followed the story of the enslaved Kunta Kinte and his descendants, was an immediate cultural phenomenon that estimated an estimated 130 million Attracted viewers and sparked many open discussions about the brutality of slavery and its lingering effects “It meant so much to me on so many levels,” says Amos

While Amos had initially played minor roles on the show, he was amazed to get the part of the version of Kinte, the show’s hero, middle-aged “I knew it was a life changing role for me as an actor and just off humanistic point of view, “he says,” It was the culmination of all the misunderstandings and stereotypical roles I had lived and seen when they were offered to me. It was like a reward for suffering that outrage “

As Amos ‘career entered its third decade, he assumed many authority roles, including police officers and military leaders. Amos’ father was a soldier, which made him proud to take on such roles. His portrayals of these parts were also influenced by a job that He had accepted shortly after college as a social worker at the Vera Institute of Justice, along with defendants at the Brooklyn House of Detention “My job was to try to give pre-trial freedom to pre-trial defendants. These were teenagers who posed no threat to society : They just took a bad break at a bad time, “he recalls.” And I saw them become old men before my eyes. It was very, very sobering “

Amos says the job gave him “a greater appreciation for the entire judicial system and the inequalities it contains” Every time I played a correctional officer or a law enforcement officer, be it military or civil, I’ve had these experiences on the I could fall back on”I took the New York Police Officer exam long before I got a role as a cop in the entertainment industry, so it was all some kind of preparation.”

And Amos was especially happy when his west wing character, Admiral Percy Fitzwallace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was given the chance to develop not only his military might, but also his ability to bring about social change. “He had the opportunity to addressing institutional grievances – but he never had to raise his voice or be ostentatious in his emotions until it got so one-sided I like the way Aaron Sorkin wrote the dialogue of this character as it reflects the position of the man and the military “, He says,“ When he said, “hit this with a stick,” it was like throwing a glove: “Are you going to continue with this charade of injustices or not? “

In 2018, Amos received a call from his team to appear in a new Adam Sandler movie.They said, ‘What are you doing right now? Come into the studio and take a tour with Adam, who is really casual, “recalls Amos.” I said, “Sure, why not? “

But the film was no ordinary Sandler film: it was Uncut Gems, the Safdie Brothers’ chaotic and aggressive thriller that has already achieved cult classic status in some circles, and in a strange scene in a film full of Amos, Amos plays one Version of himself that Sandler’s character Howard slams the door and asks if his son can use Amos’ bathroom

When asked if Amos knew why he was asked to make a cameo in the film, he replied, “Had no idea I didn’t care The check didn’t bounce The catering was good So it was a win- Win situation ”

Perhaps the best-known role of Amos is Coming to America’s Cleo McDowell “Can you think of a better job than one where you know you will laugh all day and serve you food and then you will laugh more again ? “He remembers the original movie” Working with Eddie Murphy: I can’t describe it to you You’re there Otherwise nothing exists He is that character and he exudes it, and you in turn have an obligation to return him to him in the same way ”

Amos hasn’t been in Coming 2 America long, but he dominates a key scene in which he advises Prince Akeem (Murphy) about his future. The experience made him excited to be involved in some form or other with the franchise in the future, “If it’s a.” Coming to America is supposed to be 3, and I hope there will be, they can drive me to Zamunda in a wheelchair and maybe I’ll sell zebra burgers or hippo lips, “he says laughing.” But if there’s a dollar, that can be earned for selling the McDowell’s product then rest assured I’ll be there in the form of Cleo McDowell”There’s still life in the old boy”

John Amos

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